The boatbuilders at Marlow-Hunter, formerly known as Hunter Marine, may have been too successful, if that’s possible, with their prodigious production run of more than 600 Hunter 33s. They found that the boat’s secondhand market was so vibrant that, in essence, they were competing against themselves for new-boat sales. They decided that by offering a new family cruiser of the same size but with significant innovations and upgrades, they might lure customers back into the new-boat market, and if they made the price very attractive, they might also entice trailer-sailors to make the leap up into a manageable keelboat.
The innovations and improvements found in the new and completely revamped Hunter 33 aren’t mere window dressing; they’re genuine leaps forward in speed, handling, comfort, and value. Always lurking is the risk of trying to squeeze too much into a small hull, such as larger cockpits, more spacious decks, increased interior volume, and a plethora of modern gadgetry. But Glen Henderson and the Hunter Design Group have found a superb balance in this package of upgrades.
The new hull still maintains Henderson’s signature hollow bow but now sports a trendy hard chine. By placing it beneath the waterline, Henderson sacrificed the cosmetic flourish of an elevated chine but found the sweet spot in terms of form stability and lateral resistance while under way.
Small but ultimately significant adjustments to the deck design add up to notable ergonomic efficiency. The cockpit pedestal has been moved back a few inches to create a larger cockpit area. A clever drop-down/walk-through transom adds to the usable space, and because this is a relatively high-sided vessel, it will be the preferred boarding point. The offset boarding ladder will come in handy for swimmers. The Lewmar wheel, when folded in, opens the access forward. But even in its full open position, it offers 10 inches of clearance between the wheel and the cockpit seats, giving the helmsman quick access to the sailing controls forward on the cabin top.
Two seats sculpted into the impregnable aft pulpit add to the already spacious outdoor social area. The steering pedestal is stout and holds an array of engine and navigational instruments, and it acts as the base for a sizable folding cockpit table.
It wouldn’t be a Hunter without the forward sloping arch with overhead, dual-ended mainsail sheeting. The headsail sheet winches are adequately sized and placed handy to the helm. Sheet wells built into the companionway bulkheads tame the abundance of sheets, halyards, and furling lines led aft to the cabin top.
There are ample stowage lockers, and the twin-bottle LPG locker is particularly well designed. I don’t like the three-washboard arrangement on a tapered companionway hatch, but this was the only fault I found in an otherwise excellent cockpit plan.
The deck has been redesigned with larger deadlights that allow more light below. Also, the lower shrouds have been moved inboard, creating an unencumbered flow forward. The new seahood covers the many lines leading aft, leaving a cleaner and, therefore, safer deck. The foredeck workspace is well thought out, with a small but adequate rode locker, a single roller, a recessed Lewmar windlass, and a snubbing cleat. The twin lifelines are coated but stand a minimal 23 inches high. I’d like to see this figure raised across the industry.
Though not touted as a performance cruiser, I found the 33 to be quick and responsive. Even with the in-mast furling option (not the fastest of sail plans), in only 5 to 7 knots of breeze, we maintained an honest 5.5 knots to windward and just under 5 with the wind on the beam. The 33 tacked effortlessly and tracked well. All in all, this is a slippery yet well-behaved hull.
Under power—the boat we tested had a 29-horsepower Yanmar diesel with saildrive—the vessel showed a good turn of speed, touching 6.5 knots at a cruising rpm and 7.5 when flat-out. (A 21-horsepower engine is also available.) It backed with precision and, due to the highly efficient balanced spade rudder, turned nearly in its own length. With the 33’s small size and snappy responsiveness, the boat should prove quite manageable in tight quarters.
Where it really shines, however, is below. The interior is surprisingly spacious, bright, and well ventilated. Good handholds and the rounded teak companionway steps lead one safely below. A single full-size head and shower lie to starboard, across from a well-executed galley to port. The countertops are an attractive and practical white speckled Corian. A stainless-steel rail acts as both fiddle and handhold. The two-burner stove/oven is well fiddled but could use a little more angle when gimbaled. There’s a single but deep sink. The galley is large enough to work in conveniently but enclosed enough for safe use at sea.
The main saloon sports a very clever central table that’s built around a liquor/stowage cabinet. The table drops to create an additional berth. Across to starboard, a bench seat can be folded up to create a central cocktail table that doubles as the navigation station. Other amenities include a flat-screen TV and even an iPod docking station. Not mere gimmickry, this is a commitment to bringing the company’s styling, amenities, and electrical/mechanical systems up to the most modern of standards.
The owners cabin forward is bright, spacious, and offers good stowage spaces. The athwartship guest double lies in the stern to starboard.
The fit and finish are fine, and the overall cherry color and styling is pleasing to the eye. But more important, it must be noted again that this is only a 33-foot sailboat, and yet it contains two private cabins, a full-service galley, a spacious central saloon area, a full-size head and shower, and a navigation station—while still offering easy engine access and room to spare for generous stowage of gear.
The Hunter 33 shows no incongruities in its core concept. This is a contemporary-looking, modern-feeling coastal or near-offshore cruiser designed to take an entire family to sea in ease, style, and comfort. The good news is that it can do this at an amazingly attractive price. With that combination of looks, performance, and value, Marlow-Hunter may find itself faced again, perhaps in just a few years, with the same fortunate problem that its new 33 was designed to solve.
Two-time circumnavigator Alvah Simon is a Cruising World Boat of the Year judge for 2013.